Retirement makes Gwinnett center of Hispanic politics

Republicans are gaining more momentum in the Legislature, even a week and a half before people line up for office.

One influential Democrat switched parties this week and two more said they won't seek re-election, including Sen. Sam Zamarripa, the only Hispanic member of the Senate.

That leaves Gwinnett as the only Georgia county with Latino representation under the Gold Dome.

Rep. David Casas, R-Lilburn, said he was saddened to see Zamarripa go, even though the two rarely saw eye-to-eye on legislation.

"I spent most of my time trying to block his (legislation) and vice versa," Casas said.

But he said the two often appeared at Hispanic forums together, with the Cuban-born Gwinnett man giving the Republican argument and Zamarripa the Democrats' side.

"When we got together, it was a good debate and the issues got out there," Casas said. "The Hispanic community and all its diversity had a voice. Without him, that voice diminished some."

Casas, one of two Gwinnett reps with Hispanic heritage, said he did not attend Monday's immigration rally in Doraville, where about 50,000 people protested.

Casas supported bills in the Legislature to make it harder for illegal immigrants to receive state support such as nonemergency health care, but he said he hopes to see Congress pay attention to the rally.

"The numbers are high, and it shows it's quite a huge issue," he said.

Casas said he first wants to see movement on tightening up the border before debating what to do with immigrants in the country.

"You can't rebuild New Orleans without fixing the levees. It's the same thing here," he said. "We need to fix this broken system."

Although a staunch opponent of the immigration-reform bill passed by the General Assembly last month, Zamarripa worked closely with the measure's sponsor, Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, to soften its impacts on illegal immigrants and their families.

Back to the influential Democrats

Rep. Mickey Channell of Greensboro announced he was switching to the Republican Party on Wednesday.

He's the 14th legislator to switch parties since 2002 when Gov. Sonny Perdue became the first Republican governor elected since Reconstruction.

"As I've said, the Republican Party is the fastest growing family in Georgia, and this is yet another example of that truth," said Georgia Republican Party Chairman Alec Poitevint. "We look forward to working with Mickey as we continue to improve education, create jobs, and do what is best for the citizens of Georgia."

Rep. Tom Bordeaux, D-Savannah, announced this week that he was stepping down after 16 years in the House to spend more time with his wife and young children.

Bordeaux, a lawyer, rose to become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee before a dispute in 2004 over a tort-reform bill with then-Speaker Terry Coleman, D-Eastman, cost him the post.

Bordeaux gained a reputation as one of the chamber's more thoughtful members, able to sift through even the most complicated bills and unearth potential unintended consequences.

The departures of Zamarripa and Bordeaux aren't expected to reduce the Democrats' numbers in the Legislature. Both occupy seats considered safe for the minority party.

Political Notebook appears in the Thursday and Sunday editions of the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Staff Writer Dave Williams contributed to this report. Camie Young can be reached via e-mail at camie.young@gwinnettdailypost.com.